Five-time European Under-21 champions Italy stayed on course for next summer's finals in Sweden by booking a place in Friday's play-off draw with a 1-1 draw in Croatia – though not without suffering some late nerves.
Marco Motta's header shortly before half-time looked to have set the Azzurrini up for the minimum one-point haul needed to top Group 1, yet there was a sting in the tail in Varazdin.
With eight minutes remaining, a seemingly innocuous Ivo Ilicevic free-kick swung into the area and somehow evaded everyone as it bounced into the net – dragging Croatia back into the game and leaving Italy with a testing finale. But the visitors held on for the point to finish top of Group 1.
Pierluigi Casiraghi's team would only have had themselves to blame had they lost. Having weathered an early storm, the Azzurrini took a deserved lead when Motta rose to head in Sebastian Giovinco's corner, then failed to press home their advantage.
Giovinco was particularly guilty, blazing over the bar with only the goalkeeper to beat. In the end, however, it mattered not.
Group 1 Fixtures:
Tuesday 9 September
Croatia 1-1 Italy
Greece 1-0 Faroe Islands
Wednesday 10 September
Albania 0-0 Azerbaijan
Group 1 Standings:
 ITA - PLD: 10 - PTS: 24
 CRO - PLD: 10 - PTS: 22
 GRE - PLD: 10 - PTS: 18
 ALB - PLD: 10 - PTS: 12
 FAR - PLD: 10 - PTS: 04
 AZE - PLD: 10 - PTS: 03
Other Play-off Qualifiers:
On a dramatic night of action, the other 13 play-off spots were also filled as back-to-back reigning champions the Netherlands bowed out after losing 1-0 to Switzerland, who progress from Group 5.
Turkey rubber-stamped their ticket as Group 2 winners after a 4-0 victory at home to Armenia, while Finland topped Group 6 after drawing 0-0 in Slovenia.
Serbia, finalists in 2007, advanced as Group 8 winners, while Germany took pole position in Group 9 after a 0-0 stalemate with Israel. Wales were surprise 3-0 victors in Romania to claim top billing in Group 10.
They progressed alongside England (Group 3 winners), Spain (Group 4) and Austria (Group 7) who had already qualified going into tonight's action.
Belarus (Group 8), France (Group 10), Israel (Group 9) and Denmark (Group 6) went through as the four best runners-up, with the Danes proceeding on goal difference ahead of the Netherlands and Croatia.
Friday 12 September at 1100 UK time (+1hr for Italy/CET)
Play-off First Leg Fixtures:
Friday 10 & Saturday 11 October
Play-off Second Leg Fixtures:
Tuesday 14 & Wednesday 15 October
The seven victors from the two-legged ties will join hosts Sweden in the competition proper from 15 to 29 June 2009.